Suburban Uprising

Perhaps one of the more concerning aspects of the 2017 election in Virginia is the clear signal it sends about GOP troubles in the ‘burbs – urban suburbs to be more precise.  It was not just in Northern Virginia that Republican candidates experienced a suburban rejection, but also in the urban suburbs surrounding Richmond.

The American Communities Project is a joint political science/journalism project housed at George Washington University.  ACP has identified 15 county types to help us better understand what is happening at the local level.  According to the ACP website, here’s a brief description of the county identification process: Working with academics, the ACP used a wide range of different factors – everything from income to race and ethnicity to education to religious affiliation – and a clustering technique to identify 15 types of counties, everything from Big Cities to Aging Farmlands. It has mapped those types to show where the country’s political, socio-economic and cultural fissures are.

There were areas of Virginia where Ed Gillespie performed well and as expected:

  • Evangelical Hubs (Gillespie 60{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of the vote)
  • Graying America (Gillespie 61{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of the vote)
  • Rural Middle America (Gillespie 71{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of the vote)
  • Working Class Country (Gillespie 73{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of the vote)

In fact, Gillespie outperformed the average for Cuccinelli in 2013 and McDonnell in 2009 in these GOP strongholds.  Gillespie even outpaced Trump in all but Working Class Country.

The problem is … there just aren’t enough people in these GOP communities to counter-balance the drag in the more populous urban suburbs and exurbs (identified below).

Gillespie and Trump do share something in common – performing below the norm for a Republican candidate in these urban suburb and exurb communities.  In 2016, these communities, particularly the urban suburbs, moved away from Trump compared to previous GOP candidates in the state. The table was set, and the trend continued into 2017.


  • Henrico County is a microcosm of the challenge facing Republicans in the urban suburbs. A county Bob McDonnell won with 56{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of the vote in 2009, Henrico rejected Trump by 20 points and followed suit by handing Gillespie a 22 point defeat.
  • Similarly, a +22 McDonnell win in Loudon County in 2009 turned into a 17 point defeat for Trump in 2016 and a 20-point loss for Gillespie in 2017.
  • The exurban problem is less dramatic but still evident. In Chesterfield County, for instance, Cuccinelli beat McAuliffe by 8 points.  That GOP advantage shrunk to just two points with Trump and a dead even race in 2017.

Not only were the margins grim for Republicans in these communities, but the turnout was larger than historical averages.  The urban suburbs represented roughly 29.65{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of the electorate in 2017, almost a full percentage point higher turnout than the previous high of 28.75{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} in 2014.  The 20.36{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of the electorate constituted by the exurbs roughly matched turnout in even year elections.

And what is abundantly clear, particularly in the urban suburbs, is how much these voters dislike the President.  Late October statewide polling found that among men in the urban suburbs of Virginia, Trump’s approval rating was 35{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} approve/62{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove, while a dismal 19{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} approve/78{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} disapprove among women.


This is a bad trend for Republicans in suburban communities that started in 2016.  Higher turnout and declining GOP support in these communities is a red flag for Republican candidates.  It’s a trend that we will likely continue to see heading into the midterms.  Fortunately, our firm has deep experience winning campaigns in these types of communities in difficult cycles.  It’s better to go in with eyes wide open, and that means recognizing that winning requires raising even more money, defining your opponent early, targeting voters early, and being aggressive at every moment of the campaign.



Similar Articles

  • Tattoos, Pot and Football: Our Daily Lives Reflected in WSJ/NBC News Polls
    read more

  • Public Opinion Strategies Polls in 18 Successful 2019 Elections
    read more

  • National Survey: Health Insurance Costs Top Health Care Concerns for Voters
    read more

  • Public Education Update
    read more

  • Public Release of Research: Strengthening HCAHPS Patient Experience Surveying
    read more

Public Opinion Strategies helped us to clarify what we wanted to learn and then conducted research and analysis that shed light even beyond the questions we set out to ask. They were very receptive to our suggestions, responsive to our queries, and flexible when we needed them to be.

Public Opinion Strategies has consistently offered unparalleled advice and spot-on polling that has shaped how and where we spent money and deploy key resources. Additionally, they have always been an excellent steward of limited campaign resources, ensuring we spend wisely and not a dollar more than necessary in order to get the information we need.

Robert Blizzard and Public Opinion Strategies did a great job for us throughout our successful campaign for Congress. Robert gave us accurate data, spot on analysis, and professional advice, all of which were essential to our victory.

Public Opinion Strategies is one of our go-to pollsters when it comes to testing public support for bond ballot measures and other initiative proposals. They are available to provide ongoing consultation with regard to crafting of ballot questions, public outreach messaging, and related efforts.

ACLI has worked with Public Opinion Strategies for decades, through several tough industry battles—often ones in which public opinion does not naturally fall on the side of insurers. Yet Bill and his team consistently provide invaluable strategic advice by refining our messages and helping us frame our issues in a way that makes them understandable and persuasive.

The data from Public Opinion Strategies provided important insight and informed our public awareness campaign. We sincerely appreciate their professionalism and expertise in this arena.

Nicole McCleskey and the team at Public Opinion Strategies have been invaluable to me, both during my campaigns and as Governor of the State of New Mexico. It’s not just the accuracy of their numbers, but guiding the overall strategy that makes them so valuable.

Public Opinion Strategies has been a part of our team in Missouri for more than a decade. With their data and guidance, Republicans here were able to attain a majority in the House in 2002 for the first time in fifty years, and we have been able to grow that majority to the point that we now have a record, veto-proof majority.

In my tenure at two leading business associations, facing huge and complex consumer issues, I have benefitted enormously from the objective advisory skills of Bill and his team. They do their homework, they are rigorous, dispassionate and thoughtful. Turning questions into answers is a clever tag, but it’s also an apt description of the professional talents of the firm.

I consider Public Opinion Strategies to be a part of our team. That is the way we have always worked. They have helped us to understand our needs and fashioned research solutions to meet those needs. They have helped us to meet killer deadlines by being flexible, executing rapidly, and insuring quality. Teamwork is the best way to describe it.

Accuracy, speed, and deep knowledge of key issues and public sentiment are the hallmarks of quality opinion research, and on these measures Public Opinion Strategies consistently delivers. I have had the pleasure of working with Public Opinion Strategies for more than 15 years on dozens of issues, and they are undoubtedly the gold standard.

Public Opinion Strategies’ track record of success and wealth of experience in political campaigns and issue advocacy are why they are one of the most trusted and well respected public opinion firms in Washington, D.C. Their insights and perspectives have helped to inform a wide array of public affairs activities across multiple industries.

Social Media Auto Publish Powered By :